Podcast

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Many Ironies of Casablanca

As I update the old checklists, I thought it would also be good to take some time along the way to look deeper into irony. As we did with Blazing Saddles, let’s run through fourteen ironies you can find in Casablanca:

Your story will be more meaningful if you present a fundamentally ironic concept (which will sometimes be encapsulated by an ironic title).
  • The least patriotic American has to save the Allied cause. (The title is not ironic.)
There are three big ways to have ironic characterization: Your heroes will be more compelling if they have an ironic backstory…
  • Rick the cynic used to be an idealist
…an ironic contrast between their exterior and interior…
  • Rick the cynic is filled with tender heartache
…and a great flaw that’s the ironic flip side of a great strength.
  • He’s too cold-blooded, but the flip side is that he’s very cool.
Structure centers around another great irony: Though your heroes might initially perceive this challenge as an unwelcome crisis, it will often prove to be a crisis that ironically provides just the opportunity your heroes need, directly or indirectly, to address their longstanding social problems and/or internal flaws.
  • Rick finds heroic fulfillment by being placed in a deadly situation and having his heart ripped up again.
Each scene will be more meaningful if the hero encounters a turn of events that upsets some pre-established ironic presumptions about what would happen.
  • Rick has made it clear he doesn’t care if Victor makes it out of Casablanca.
Likewise, the conclusion of each scene will be more meaningful if the character’s actions result in an ironic scene outcome, in which the events of the scene ironically flip the original intention, even if things turn out well for the hero.
  • When Rick discovers that Victor is with Ilsa, he suddenly has to care.
There are several types of ironic dialogue: On the one hand, there’s intentionally ironic dialogue, such as sarcasm.
  • Rick is insulted, but says, “I stay up late at night crying about it.”
On the other hand, there’s unintentionally ironic dialogue, such as when there’s an ironic contrast between word and deed…
  •  Strasser thinks he’s very much in control, but we can see otherwise.
…or an ironic contrast between what the character says and what the audience knows.
  • Ilsa says she’ll meet Rick at the train station, but we know that she won’t have the chance.
There are the pros and (potentially big) cons of having an ironic tone, which is the one type of irony that most stories shouldn’t have, although it can be a useful tool for certain very specific types of stories.
  • It’s tempting to say this movie has an ironic tone, because it’s full of cool, jaded sarcasm, but that’s not the way I use the term. This movie does not take a sarcastic attitude towards storytelling itself (as Blazing Saddles does, for instance) so I would say that it doesn’t have an ironic tone.
Finally, there are the thematic ironies that every story should have: The story’s ironic thematic dilemma, in which the story’s overall dilemma comes down to a choice of good vs. good (or bad vs. bad)…
  • Romantic love vs. love of country
…as well as several smaller ironic dilemmas along the way, in which your characters must consistently choose between goods, or between evils throughout your story.
  • It’s important to fight for freedom, but do you have any right to endanger someone’s life by asking them to come to a resistance meeting?
This will culminate in an ironic final outcome, separate from the ironic concept and the thematic dilemma.
  • Rick finds fulfillment by sending away the woman he loves.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Bourne Identity: The Archive (and Updated Checklist)

 A wonderful movie:
Here’s another example of one I had to cut because it’s no longer on the checklist, but which got an interesting answer:
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Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
 We’re shown very early on that the Americans are so frustrated that they’re looking up everywhere Marie has ever lived.  When this pays off for them an hour later, it doesn’t seem dubious.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rulebook Casefile: 12 Ironies in Blazing Saddles

Hi guys, I talk a lot about irony here and in my book, but I’ve never specifically focused on all the ironies in one story before. I just re-ran the checklist for Blazing Saddles, so let’s go back and look at all the ironies in that movies. Here are the thirteen ironies I list in my book:

Your story will be more meaningful if you present a fundamentally ironic concept (which will sometimes be encapsulated by an ironic title).
  • A white old west town is saved by a black sheriff. (An ironic title is the only type of irony this movie doesn’t have)
There are three big ways to have ironic characterization: Your heroes will be more compelling if they have an ironic backstory…
  • The black sheriff is a condemned track layer.
…an ironic contrast between their exterior and interior…
…and a great flaw that’s the ironic flip side of a great strength.
  • He’s self-destructively defiant, which almost gets him killed, but the flip side of that is that he’s charming and funny, which saves his life many times.
Our examination of structure will center around another great irony: Though your heroes might initially perceive this challenge as an unwelcome crisis, it will often prove to be a crisis that ironically provides just the opportunity your heroes need, directly or indirectly, to address their longstanding social problems and/or internal flaws.
  • Bart finds heroic fulfillment by being placed in a deadly situation
Each scene will be more meaningful if the hero encounters a turn of events that upsets some pre-established ironic presumptions about what would happen.
  • He clearly expects a hero’s welcome when he rides into town, but does not receive one, to put it mildly. 
Likewise, the conclusion of each scene will be more meaningful if the character’s actions result in an ironic scene outcome, in which the events of the scene ironically flip the original intention, even if things turn out well for the hero.
  • Bart winds up a hostage in his own jail.
We’ll look at several types of ironic dialogue: On the one hand, we’ll look at intentionally ironic dialogue, such as sarcasm.
  • No shortage of sarcasm: “Dare I even say, president?” “Dare! Dare!”
On the other hand, we’ll explore unintentionally ironic dialogue, such as when there’s an ironic contrast between word and deed…
  • The governor keeps talking about how important he is, but he has no power.
…or an ironic contrast between what the character says and what the audience knows.
  • Before Bart meets Mongo, he says that Mongo can’t be as menacing as people say, but we’ve met him and we know better.
We’ll discuss the pros and (potentially big) cons of having an ironic tone, which is the one type of irony that most stories shouldn’t have, although it can be a useful tool for certain very specific types of stories.
  • The ending of this movie adopts an ironic tone, and gets away with it. They ride off into the sunset, then get tired of riding and switch to a car.
Finally, we’ll look at the thematic ironies that every story should have: The story’s ironic thematic dilemma, in which the story’s overall dilemma comes down to a choice of good vs. good (or bad vs. bad)
  • Good vs. good: Individualism vs. solidarity, standing up to people vs. winning them over.
…as well as several smaller ironic dilemmas along the way, in which your characters must consistently choose between goods, or between evils throughout your story.
  • Bad vs. bad: Anger vs. subservience 
This will culminate in an ironic final outcome, separate from the ironic concept and the thematic dilemma.
  • He saves the town but is too discontent to stay.

Monday, April 10, 2017

An Education: The Archive (and Updated Checklist!)

I do love this movie.  Updated to the sixth and final version of the checklist!

The Ultimate Story Checklist: An Education
Straying from the Party Line: An Education
Denying Synthesis in An Education
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Avoid the Sorkin Stammer

Bonus: They later did a follow-up to that Sorkin Supercut.  Wonderfully unbearable: